Updated: Mar 6
Here's a list of my top PERENNIAL faves for the urban mini food forest garden. If you would like help designing your food forest or choosing the perfect plants for you, contact Marni!
These herbs add to the shrub layer of a food forest. Plant them in a sunny spot and spread them out throughout your garden to attract pollinators and beneficial insects. These evergreen herbs do not lose their stems and keep their leaves over winter. This means your urban food forest will have some interest all through the winter!
Lavender: trim back/harvest spent flowers in the late fall. Pollinators love them all, but for culinary uses choose English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).
Rosemary: I could not live without Rosemary in my garden. Check the mature size as some Rosemary plants can get to be over 6 feet tall and could almost be considered as the tree layer of your food forest!
Thyme: So many wonderful varieties. Plant it at the edge of the garden and let it spill over a rockery. Pollinators love the flowers. Try some thyme tea next thyme :) you have a cough or respiratory issues.*
Sage: I love having several varieties, including standard garden sage and purple sage. Low shrub that keeps it's leaves. Harvesting lessens in winter but resumes with new growth in spring.
Mint Family, Oregano, etc: Keep it in a pot or let it be free to wander. Oregano and mint family plants are a must for the pollinators and for the kitchen. There are certain varieties that aren't as spready, such as Golden Oregano.
Be sure to keep track of your plant varieties: I use aluminum tags, like these, to mark trees and shrubs, or these in-ground markers work great for marking where your true perennials are planted.
Tea plant (Camelia sinensis): Evergreen medium size shrub is great for winter interest. If you're a tea drinker or know someone who is, this is a MUST have for your food forest. Dry the leaves and make your own green or black tea.
The groundcover layer makes use of the space under your tree layer. The groundcover layer can also be planted with self-seeding herbs and flowers like calendula, borage, and feverfew.
Strawberry: I love the everbearing strawberry varieties and I especially love the little alpine strawberries. Spreads by runners to create an edible groundcover. Kids and adults love the white alpine strawberries!
Wintergreen: Low spreading ground cover and good in part shade areas. Red, or pink, berries have the classic wintergreen flavor and can be used for flavoring foods.*
Herbs: Mint Family (as above)
Fruiting trees & Shrubs
Fruit trees: There are so many great dwarfing varieties of pear, apple, and cherry, among others. Make sure you read the mature size as the root stock can differ and still be quite tall for a "semi-dwarf" variety. There are even "mini-dwarf" varieties that only mature to around 5 or 6 feet.
I especially love espalier fruit trees and columnar apple varieties for small spaces. Plus they are easier to prune and maintain and both work well in large pots that you can use to grow trees on your sunny patio or front driveway! Just don't forget to water every day in the summer.
Blueberry: There are highbush and low bush, make sure you check the mature height before you buy it. These do best in FULL sun. There are a few evergreen varieties that are wonderful additions to a front yard food forest since they keep their leaves all year. Great fall leaf color as well.
Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea): The first fruits of spring! I also love these for part shade locations but they do as well in sun, early ripening, elongated blue berries. Need two for pollination.
Aronia (Aronia Melanocarpa): Edible tart purple berries that birds love too, great fall leaf color.
Cane fruits: Raspberries, blackberries, etc. Spread by roots so keep in pots or dedicated
raised bed or prepare to dig out runners each year.
Currants and gooseberries: Both are great options for a part shade garden. Make sure to get disease resistant varieties as some can harbor white pine rust.
Persimmon: Ok, it's mature height is 15 feet, so maybe not for every urban food forest, but it's the perfect small tree for a larger suburban lot. It can be a stunning specimen tree in the fall.
Quince: I love the contorted variety because it stays small and provides winter interest. Begins flowering in late winter before leaves. Need two varieties for fruit.
Fig: Who doesn't love figs? Fig trees can be quite tall and wide at maturity, but there are many dwarfing varieties now. My favorite for the Seattle area is Olympian.
Hazelnut/Filbert: Mature size varies but is generally 15-18' and you need two for pollination, so you need some room to grow these. And squirrels love the nuts, so be prepared to share.
Vining (if space):
The vine layer of a traditional food forest can sometimes make use of the tree layer as a trellis. However, in an urban setting this is usually not very practical. However, having tall arbors growing vines can add height and interest to your garden and mimic the small tree layer.
Grapes: Need a very sturdy trellis or arbor. Grapes need pruning each year or will be a jumbled mess of vines and fruit will get moldy from lack of air circulation. Check to see if the variety you want needs a pollinator.
Hardy kiwi: Same as above. Need two for pollination. These tiny kiwi fruit or "berries" are so tasty and plentiful it's worth the work to create a space for them.
Akebia (Akebia quinata) aka chocolate vine: Aggressive vine and needs a very tall and strong arbor. Need a male and female for fruit. Everyone will ask what this is. It's a beautiful vine with dainty chocolate colored and scented flowers. I have not found the fruit to be all that great, but it's sure fun to see it and have folks try it. If you don't care about fruit you only need to get one.
These food forest plants die back at end of season. Plant them between evergreen shrubs and trees that provide winter interest.
Artichoke & Cardoon: You can't have too many artichoke plants. Everyone should have at least two! Even if you don't like to eat artichokes, the flowers are magnificent and I would grow them for that alone. Leaves also have medicinal uses. Cardoons are a relative and are bigger with smaller flowers. The stems of cardoons are edible after blanching.*
Echinacea (Echinacea purperea): Medicinal uses
Comfrey: Leaves used as “green manure” to build soil. Roots are used medicinally. Great flowers for pollinators. Russian or Bocking 14 (Symphytum x uplandicum) is sterile so does not spread. Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is the best for medicinal use but spreads by roots can be aggressive.
Rhubarb: Rhubarb is easy to grow and produces a lot of food. Mine does well in semi-shade, making it one of the few edibles that can take some shade.
Many of these plants and more are available to purchase online at the Growing Roots Together nursery! Click below to check current availability and to order. Local delivery only or arrange pick up in Lynnwood.
*Consume plants at your own risk: please do your own research and make sure you know the plant and it's uses/potential side effects before eating or using medicinally.